Posted by: Janet Sieff
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
The communication behavior of prospective college students is in the news a lot these days. I related to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Texting generation doesn’t share boomers’ taste for talk” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/07/AR2010080702848.html)
and how the information paralleled some of the evidence reported in the Pew Research Study about the Millennial Generation. http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/751/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a communication revolution and the implications for college recruiting are enormous. We know that live telephone conversations are no longer the communication channel of choice, especially for the Millennials and Generations Y and Z. A successful enrollment management communication plan requires a nimble strategy for developing relationships without the benefit of a real-time exchange of words.
It’s interesting that the history of the live telephone conversation has gone full circle. In the early and modern 20th century, as the telephone became more popular one had to be ready to answer and talk when the phone rang. (No caller ID or answering machines then either!) The phone call enabled real-time conversations and basically upstaged letter writing and telegrams where the message could be controlled. The act of making a call and reaching out to someone by telephone conveyed that a synchronous conversation was special and more important than waiting for the time to send a letter.
The current preferred behaviors of texting and emailing is sort of a reverse trend. Today’s communication revolution shuns real-time conversations and reverts to controlled written messages through texts and emails. For those of us accustomed to conversing and conducting business in real-time via the telephone – this is painful.
Cell Phones vs. Land Line Phones
Today more people have cell phones and the ubiquity of cell phones has created less need for land line phones. So while more people are connected, fewer households are connected as in the past. Land lines accounts have declined by 38% in the past 4 years.
Absence of a home phone changes the playing field for developing a relationship with influencers. Before, in the old days, when calling a student at home there was a possibility of a conversation with a parent or a sibling who happened to answer the phone. A good thing! We could also leave messages on home phone answering machines reminding students to follow through with an enrollment task, which in turn could be heard and reinforced by a parent listening to the recording.
It is clear that the cell phone is a star player in this communication revolution and the primary means for reaching someone to engage in conversation about going to college. It seems that everyone has one and the Pew Report reported that most teenagers sleep with their cell phone; so connecting is even easier, right? On the contrary, a cell phone perpetuates avoidance behavior. One can turn off their phone, screen calls and texts and decide whether or not to reply. The same rings true for the caller ID feature on a traditional telephone. The return call or text message can be controlled and done, if at all, at one’s convenience. It once was rude not to return a phone call, now it is common behavior.
The Washington Post article referred to a millennial as feeling “confronted” with a real-time conversation, preferring the ability to make a careful response rather than being on the spot to converse. When cell phone conversations do occur the average time of the call has shrunk to 1.81 minutes.
In short, folks insist on being constantly connected. Yet ironically “connected” is not synonymous with responding and engaging. (Remember this is a revolution.)
Successful enrollment management must figure out how to efficiently connect with a generation that is finicky about responding to messages. It’s not about how you want to communicate –it’s about how your prospects want to communicate. Plus our target markets have become more diverse, so we must be ambidextrous and adapt to the communication styles of the various generations in our prospect pools. Some prospects like a phone call and some do not. Some prospects respond to email while traditional mail commands attention with others. And don’t forget the influencers.
To connect and keep up with enrollment goals multiple simultaneous communication solutions are required.